In what was arguably the most innovative content marketing campaign during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Adidas turned the game’s official match ball into an official spokesperson.

Adidas gave @Brazuca its own voice and point of view in real time, a platform that gave the company a new way to interact with players, teams and celebrities and 3.5 million fans from around the world.

In his presentation “All In: Winning The Race For Consumer Attention and Engagement” at IEG 2015, Adidas global brand director Thomas van Schaik explained the thinking behind the program, lessons learned and other topics.  

Below are edited excerpts from his presentation.

On cutting through the clutter at the World Cup
The World Cup is the most beautiful event on the planet, and it’s a natural place for Adidas to be. It’s a stage to celebrate not only what we make, but celebrate what we stand for.

The trouble is, even though we are an official World Cup partner, all of our competitors are using the same stage. It’s the most cluttered place for a marketer on the planet.

Brands want to make use of the spike in social media around the World Cup. Brands are producing more and more content for more and more channels, and at the same time complaining about not cutting through the clutter.

So what do you produce that actually offers brand value? It’s not just producing more content for the sake of getting more clicks and exposure. Is the content that you’re creating actually telling consumers something about your brand? That’s not always the case.

On creating content that stands apart
So how do you create content that actually builds brand value? What is your proposition, what is your tone of voice, how consistent is that with your brand values, and what content pillars are you aiming to pursue? You can’t do everything. If you’re everything to everybody you end up meaning nothing to nobody.

What scenarios are going to unfold during the FIFA World Cup? There are 32 teams, and they are either going to make it to the next round or not. If they make the next round they’re going to play one of four competitors. You need to build a content calendar, and you need to make sure that you have premium content to complement each potential scenario.

You also need to make sure you can join the right conversations, and that your content is searchable so people can find what you’re trying to share.

So what hashtags do you use? The World Cup is a graveyard of branded hashtags. It’s very, very difficult to find a hashtag that actually means something and is a usable tool for consumers. And if you want to respond live, you need to make sure that you’re prepared, because spontaneity requires a lot of planning.

On promoting brand essence, not product specifications
In the past Adidas focused on how it makes the best products possible. We have lots of information on how our products help athletes perform better.

That’s not what sells footballs or football jerseys. The purchase decision is emotional. Communicating on an emotional and brand level was the challenge when we moved into this campaign.

Adidas’ Marketing Strategy At The 2014 FIFA World Cup
Adida's Marketing Strategy At The 2014 FIFA World Cup

We wanted to use the World Cup to evolve the way that we market the Adidas brand. From impressions to connections, from hammering our message with the biggest media buy to creating content that people are actually searching for, and using data and analytics to see where we needed to invest our media money.

We’re pleased with the results. #Allin was the most used hashtag during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and we became the most viewed brand on YouTube. We added 5.5 million followers on our social media platforms, and the Brazuca Twitter feed grew to approximately 3.5 million followers.

On activating with real-time marketing
Real-time marketing is super personal. Its personal moments that connect, cultural moments that unite and brand moments that inspire. Not every moment is right for your brand. If you go to a sports event and want to execute real-time marketing, then you need to be patient. It’s like surfing and waiting for a wave. If you’re too late, some other surfer will catch the wave.

Many people think real-time marketing is about being reactive. It’s not. It’s about anticipating what’s going to happen and making sure that you’re prepared.

There are plenty of things that are unpredictable, but those represent five percent of real-time marketing. Luis Suarez biting was not very predictable. The Super Bowl lights going off was not very predictable. When those things happen you need to react. But 95 percent of scenarios can be anticipated.

Once we knew the final draw, we created a content suite of 1,000 pictures and 300 videos to prepare for different scenarios. If player A takes a penalty we would have an image for it, and if player B takes a penalty we would have an image for that. That was an enormous amount of content. Our objective was to use every image only once. Whether it was on the brand level, product level, video or reactive content, we had a suite of content that we could pull from.

On giving Brazuca a personality  
Adidas has provided the match ball since 1974. This time we wanted to make the most social ball ever, so we decided to give the ball a Twitter account.

The ball got a lot of criticism in 2010 for not being good enough, so it was terrifying to think there would be some guy in some attic somewhere with the Brazuca Twitter handle. We couldn’t let that happen.

Looking at handle topics, whether it was the Super Bowl lights, Messi’s left foot or Anne Hathaway’s breasts, they all brought a sense of humor that we felt had enormous potential.

We decided to give the ball its own voice and its own identity. We wanted to target a relatively young audience, so we gave the ball the identity of a baller with the nightlife to match. It needed to be fun.

The program was born out of a crisis management issue. If you look at ‘Deflategate’ with the New England Patriots, it would have been interesting if the ball had a Twitter account and could share its point of view on the topic.

We then put Brazuca into our point of sale material and other content. If the ball has a voice, why not make him the voice of the entire campaign? We invited people to follow the Brazuca because he was going to be at every game, meet every player and decide every game.

Once we decided the ball was going to have its own voice, we had to decide how to give him his own point of view. That’s when we came up with the idea of the Brazuca camera. We created a ball with six Go Pro cameras that allowed us to produce 360-degree content that actually came from the point of view of the ball.

We launched the ball in December, and we needed content to bridge the gap until the World Cup. We knew we would have plenty of content during the World Cup, but we needed to build a following and credibility leading into the games. We introduced the ball to players around the world to build knowledge, experience and authority.

We continued tweeting at the World Cup from the point of view of the ball. As the tournament went along, we got slightly crazier. We saw Brazuca’s following increase—we passed one million, two million and then three million. And then we had the France and Honduras match. The ball and goalie were on the line, but the referee hadn’t made a call yet, so we sent out the “Trust me.Goal” hashtag. It turned out we were right, and we got 16,000 retweets.

Justin Bieber, Pharrell and Gary Lineker starting tweeting about the ball, and we started tweeting back. That created conversations that all of our community was involved in.